Two Myths About the Indian Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree Debunked

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Across the country, US master’s programs are throwing open their doors to students from India.  At least, in theory.  While many of these colleges claim to welcome Indian students into their master’s programs, a deeper discrimination still exists that keeps bright, talented students from the very programs that need them.

For whatever reason, US master’s programs are obsessed with the four-year bachelor’s degree.  Never mind that it now tends to take US students well over four years to complete this degree, and never mind that the amount of time it takes to complete a degree isn’t an accurate reflection of the degree’s actual academic content or the student’s work.  Four years has become a misguided standard for acceptance into US master’s programs and it’s causing a whole heap of headache for Indian students coming to the US for grad school.

Since the only bachelor’s degrees in India’s school system requiring four years to complete are engineering degrees, what US schools REALLY mean is that their doors are open to engineering students from India.  This is discriminatory and an unfair standard – both to Indian three-year degree holding students and the graduate programs and universities that would benefit immensely from their enrollment.

Master’s programs would instantly have access to hundreds of thousands of gifted students from overseas by simply acknowledging the reality that an Indian three-year degree is equivalent to a US four-year degree.  Unfortunately for these schools and these students, two pervasive and misguided myths are holding everyone back.

First, many schools cling to the myth that the missing fourth year means missing academic content and rigor.  This is simply not the case.  According to Dr. R. Venkatachalam, former psychology professor at Bharathiar University in India (, the number of classroom contact hours in a typical Indian three-year degree program, it has been found that students engage in roughly 3,240 classroom contact hours.  That’s time in the classroom, in the lab, working directly with their teachers and advisors to earn their bachelor’s degree.  How many classroom contact hours in a US four-year degree?  Just 1,800.  Anyone can do the math.

Second, since Indian degree programs tend to be more focused on the major, many graduate programs fret that students don’t have the core liberal arts knowledge US students gain in their degrees.  In US degree programs, credits in various disciplines outside of the student’s major are required to complete their degree.  Without this core knowledge, US graduate programs worry that Indian students don’t have the core knowledge necessary to succeed in their programs.

This is changing rapidly in colleges and universities across India.  Many school have changed to a choice-based credit system that facilitates flexibility in course load and sets up the structure for students to take classes outside of their discipline.  At the same time, an evaluation of the high school diploma course content of an Indian student clearly shows a wealth of core knowledge learned before they even set foot in an undergrad program.  For this reason, Indian students with long-term goals to come to the United States for grad school ought to take on classes in various disciplines during college, and also provide a detailed evaluation of their coursework in high school as well as in their bachelor’s degree programs.

Debunking these myths is the first step towards ending discrimination against Indian students.  Many of the top US schools – including Harvard, Wharton and Duke University – have been accepting students with three-year Indian bachelor’s degrees for years.  It’s about time more schools followed suit.


This article was written by Rebecca Little